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Bad Breath (Halitosis) in Dogs

By | Last Updated: 14th July 2020

Halitosis is the medical term for an unpleasant smell present on breath, frequently affecting dogs due to an accumulation of odor-producing bacteria in their mouth, kidneys, lungs, or gastrointestinal tract. Chronic bad breath is not just a troublesome condition, but also a sign of some other illness or health issue that should be identified and treated [1, 2].

Why do dogs have bad breath

Periodontal diseases such as the formation of plaque and tartar due to poor oral hygiene are the most common causes of the problem. It may also be resulting from bacterial, fungal, or viral infections, or gastrointestinal problems like intestinal worms, and giardiasis.

Here are a few more serious conditions that may lead to bad breath as one of the symptoms:

  • Metabolic disorders like uremia and diabetes mellitus
  • Rhinitis, characterized by respiratory problems including inflammation of nasal passages or the nose
  • Kidney failure
  • Sinusitis or inflammation of the sinus cavities
  • Cancer [3, 4]


Bad Breath in Dogs

Abnormal dietary habits, like eating its poop or feces of other animals, a behavior known as coprophagia, may also cause your dog to have really bad breath [3, 4].

Young puppies who drink a lot of milk may develop ‘milk breath’ where the oral bacteria that help in digesting milk lead to a sort of foul smell on the breath [15].

Which dogs are at risk

  • Small breeds, as their teeth are closer together than large breeds, promoting plaque or tartar build-up.
  • Puppies, during the teething phase.
  • Brachycephalic breeds (Boston Terrier, Pug, Boxer, Pekingese, etc.) as their short nose and flat face make them predisposed to any periodontal diseases [2, 4].
  • Older dogs have a high risk of suffering from oral health issues like falling or broken teeth that often damage gums and may be responsible for leading to extreme bad breath [10, 11].

What to do for preventing your dog’s bad breath

  • Maintaining daily oral hygiene like brushing its teeth to reduce dental plaque [5].
  • Using vet-approved oral health products such as canine toothpaste, breath mints, sprays, and water additives to freshen up its breath.
  • Providing chew toys and treats to keep your dog’s teeth healthy naturally, preventing plaque and tartar formation.
  • Feeding your pet a balanced diet, including fiber-rich dog foods that sped up digestion.
  • Providing it with daily activities and taking it to the vet for check-ups to know about and prevent underlying health conditions [1, 2.

Signs and symptoms to look for in a dog with bad breath

Aside from a sudden onset of bad breath, a dog may show the following signs when there is an underlying health problem:

  • Difficulty chewing due to loose teeth
  • Loss of appetite
  • Anti-social behavior or irritability
  • Lethargy
  • Runny nose
  • Abnormal color of gums, like pale, reddish, or blackish gums
  • Excessive drooling
  • Stinky burps
  • Swollen or bleeding gums, blood in saliva
  • Pawing at its mouth
  • Breathing through its mouth, which also causes dry mouth
  • Frequent urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Rubbing its face on the floor [1, 3, 4, 9]

If bad breath is the only symptom, then watch for the following signs:

  • Fruity, sweet, or a nail polish-like odor in its breath [8] could signal metabolic disorders like diabetes
  • Breath smelling like urine often indicates kidney disease [1]
  • Foul smell along with yellowish eyes or gums and vomiting could be a sign of liver disorder [1]
  • Fishy smell could be an indicator of blocked or full anal glands usually caused by diarrhea or frequent soft stools [12]

Diagnostic tests needed when your dog’s breath smells bad

After evaluation of your dog’s symptoms and case history, physical and oral examinations may be performed to detect the underlying causes. If your dog is in pain or feeling anxious, a complete oral examination would require administration of anesthesia or sedation [3].

Laboratory tests

  • Blood tests like serum biochemistry profile and complete blood count for identifying diabetes [9] and liver disease.
  • Urinalysis for evaluating kidney functions.
  • Oral radiographs including X-rays taken inside the mouth to examine periodontal disease
  • Biopsy of tissue samples collected from the mouth and throat to detect infection or tumors [3].

How to get rid of bad breath in dogs

Curing bad breath in dogs usually involves treatment of the underlying cause.

Dental cleaning

If your pet’s breath smells bad because of some periodontal disease, you can make an appointment to get its teeth fully cleaned. Dental cleaning may be performed under general anesthesia while damaged or loose tooth may need to be extracted depending on the severity of the periodontal disease. The entire procedure may take 4-7 hours [2, 3].

What medication can you give your dog for bad breath

Treatment of mouth, kidney, or liver infections may require antifungal, antibiotic, or anti-inflammatory drugs. Clindamycin is an antibiotic often used for fighting many of these infections. Diabetes may be kept under control by administration of insulin [3].


Halitosis associated with serious gastrointestinal problems or cancer may require surgical removal of the damaged tissue [3].

Home remedies to fix your dog’s bad breath

  • A teaspoonful coconut oil can be mixed with the dog’s food to stop bad odor. Coconut oil has anti-microbial properties, useful for controlling the odor-causing bacteria [6].
  • A solution prepared by boiling parsley leaves in water, followed by steeping and straining, can be given as a spray or mouthwash. Parsley leaves with their chlorophyll content work as a natural remedy for the odor [6].
  • Herbs with a strong smell, like peppermint leaves, can be used in small amounts as an effective chew treat [6]. Some people recommend adding a drop of peppermint oil into your pet’s drinking water, but the safety of ingesting essential oil for dogs is still debated [13]. Also, refrain from using herbs like garlic and tea tree as they are poisonous for dogs [16].
  • Half a teaspoonful apple cider vinegar mixed in a bowl of water can be an effective solution. However, never use it undiluted, or in large amounts [14].
  • Feeding your pet 2 cups of yogurt on a daily basis can be beneficial. Scientific studies have shown that daily intake of yogurt, a probiotic supplement, is useful in decreasing levels of hydrogen sulfide, a compound responsible for causing odor in the mouth. Having yogurt may also reduce its plaque and gum problems [7].
  • Homemade dog biscuits containing parsley and mint can also be given a few times.

Make sure that you speak with your vet before implementing any of the above. Also, the herbal remedies may be harmful if your dog is pregnant, so don’t forget to mention it to to the vet.

Long-term outcome

The time taken for the problem to go away depends on the underlying causes and the methods followed for the treatment of halitosis. If surgical procedures are followed, antibiotics and pain medications may be given for several weeks before your pet could lead a normal life. Follow the post-operative instructions when feeding and giving medications [3].


    1. Bad Breath in Dogs – Pets.webmd.com
    2. Get Rid of That Stanky Dog Breath – Akc.org
    3. Chronic Bad Breath in Dogs – Vetary.com
    4. Bad Breath (Chronic) in Dogs – Petmd.com
    5. My Pet Has Bad Breath. What’s Happening to Cause It? – Vetstreet.com
    6. How to Get Rid of Dog Bad Breath – 1800remedies.com
    7. Yogurt: An Antidote to Bad Breath? – WebMD.com
    8. Your Pet’s Diabetes Danger – Prevention.com
    9. 8 Possible Causes for Your Dog’s Bad Breath – MNN.com
    10. Periodontal Disease in Senior Dogs – Canna-pet.com
    11. Your Dog’s Teeth: Toothaches and Other Problems – Pets.webmd.com
    12. Why does My Dog Smell like FishNapasdailygrowl.com
    13. Do Essential Oils Pose a Risk to Pets – Vetstreet.com
    14. Can Pets Have Apple Cider Vinegar – Petmd.com
    15. Why Does My Puppy Have Bad Breath – Petful.com
    16. Potentially Unsafe Herbs for Pets – Natural-dog-health-remedies.com

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